I AM going to break my rule this week and be serious for a moment.
October is Mental Health Month. And mental illness is no laughing matter. It certainly isn’t for me.
I have suffered from anxiety for about half my life.
And although it is now manageable and I don’t suffer from the symptoms like I used to, it still rears its ugly head from time to time.
And when it does, it devours everything in its path.
You see, my anxiety is like a voracious thief.
It robs me of who I am. It takes away my beliefs in who I am, my reasoning, my confidence.
As a journalist, words are my life. But my anxiety robs me of those too, to the point that I become so confused, I can’t string a sentence together, let alone explain how I’m feeling. I am literally lost for words.
It’s like all my thoughts have been put inside a blender and I can’t turn it off.
My mind is scattered, things don’t make any sense. When people talk to me, I have trouble processing the information. I ask them to repeat themselves. They must think I’m stupid. My confidence is shattered.
The fight or flight response kicks in — my chest tightens, my breathing becomes shallow, my heart starts racing, my stomach is in knots — although I’m not in any immediate danger. But my body thinks otherwise.
Doubt starts to creep in. I second guess myself, my abilities and my achievements.
Am I a fraud?
Yes, I must be. I am a fake.
The once enjoyable social events I lived for now terrify me.
I have gone from entertaining people to being in a constant state of panic and worry about what people will think of me. Friendly banter and witty jokes become awkward silences and sweaty palms.
Will they think that I’m rude, or boring? Maybe stupid or different?
The thing is, I’m not that different at all.
Well not where this is concerned. Here I have plenty of friends with research showing about one in five live with, and go through, the same debilitating things as me.
Debilitating because it affects every aspect of your life. It strips you of your identity. It takes away your power. It leaves you feeling exhausted, empty and alone.
To raise awareness about mental illness — which is what this month is all about — we need to speak out about our experiences so those struggling with anxiety or depression do not feel alone.
And so those who don’t have some understanding of what we go through realise it is just part of so many lives — and you never know if and when it might also be you.
Those unanswered phone calls and messages, invitation refusals and excuses to avoid social outings are nothing to do with you.
And everything to do with an invisible beast of uncertainty and fear.
So before you next judge someone stop for just a moment and consider the potential impact of the very next words out of your mouth when you express disappointment, even pique, about their behaviour because for those on the brink even a little push towards the abyss can be the final straw.